Between Faultlines and Faithlines - The Muslim Moral Dilemma
Living in a multicultural and open society, our Muslim community often grapples with the reality of diversity and social relations.
At times, we find ourselves caught in a moral dilemma; having to fulfill the necessary religious obligations on one hand and dealing with moments of irreconcilable differences which sometimes go against our principles on the other.
This perhaps kept us meandering between faultlines and faithlines. In recent years, against the backdrop of rising Islamisation trends, concerns are raised on the implications of Islamic assertiveness.
Closer to God but Further from Ourselves
Increase in religiosity however should not lead to greater distancing of our Muslim community from mainstream developments. When we see ourselves different from others, there is a tendency for us feeling more disconnected and displaced from society.
Perhaps, more needs to be done to facilitate our Muslim community to project a much greater understanding and practice of Islam from a holistic perspective, thus embracing the idea of inclusiveness and common spaces.
More than Just Halal or Haram
Islam should be viewed as more than just a set of beliefs and rituals. It is more than just halal and haram. Islam, as a way of life, encompasses the development of the Muslim personality and how by being Muslims, we can position ourselves productively and positively in a multicultural society.
Diversity of identities, ethnicities and even religions are actually signs of Allah’s mercy (rahmah) exhibited through His creations.
In Surah Al-Baqarah verse 143, Muslims are collectively viewed as the ummatan wasata, a moderate and just community, who are witnessess over mankind just like how our Prophet Muhammad PBUH is a witness over us.
The concept of being moderate or in the middle, also known as wasatiyyah, is the antidote which dispels any form of violence (tashaddud), extremity (taṭarruf) and exaggeration (‘ghuluu) in our faith.
Regardless of Race and Religion
Muslims are enjoined to perform what is praiseworthy (maʿruf) and forbid what is morally evil and disliked (munkar). Our role as vicegerents (khalifah) should not limit us to do good just amongst ourselves but also towards other communities, regardless of their faith or belief system.
This directive is not a culture-specific injunction, rather it is being targeted to all, regardless of their religious affiliations. The ethical-spiritual universalism of the Quran aims to build an open society based on moral values and not by the conventional traditions of any particular race, tribe or nation.
The Quran has in fact provided guiding principles that promote inclusivity and positive interreligious relations. Inclusivism, according to the Quran, is the appreciation of other religions by acknowledging the existence of other beliefs, while accepting Islam as the true faith.
The Quran urges Muslims to uphold justice and respect of all religions. It emphasizes the value of human dignity, recognizing Muslims as part of a bigger community and invites us to know one another.
In Surah Al-Hujurat verse 13, Allah provides a strong reason as to why human beings were created differently while at the same time He defines us collectively as ‘mankind’;
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقۡنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلۡنَـٰكُمۡ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآٮِٕلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْۚ إِنَّ أَڪۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَٮٰكُمۡۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ (١٣)
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Al-Qur’an, 49:13)
The Inclusive Ummah
The virtue of inclusivism and universalism is captured in the notion of an ‘ummah’ or the global community. An ummah is a supra-national community which includes all creations of God.
In the Medina Charter, also known as Dustūr al-Madīnah, which was established after Prophet Muhammad’s SAW migration to Medina, the Ahl Kitab, or People of the Book, which includes the Jews and Christians, were tactfully considered as members of the ummah.
Regardless of their religions and tribes, the Medina Charter recognises all different communities as one nation and views them as a single community. This inclusiveness is based on peace, mutual understanding and cooperation amongst people of different faiths.
A great example of coexistence and interreligious relations between Muslims and non-Muslims during the time of Prophet Muhammad SAW is depicted during al-hijra ʾilā al-habaša (Migration to Abyssinia) where the companions of Prophet Muhammad SAW fled from the persecution of the ruling Quraysh tribe of Makkah. (Source: Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar): Memoirs of the Noble Prophet by Mubarakfuri, Safi al-Rahman)
They sought refuge in the Christian Kingdom of Aksum, present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea, also known as Abyssinia. The concept of citizenship and social responsibility of each citizen has been beautifully demonstrated as the Muslims of that time observed their responsibility as Abyssinian citizens while having their full rights protected by its ruler.
The eloquent speech of Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (rahimahullah) before King Negus and how he refuted the claims and defamations of Muslims spread by the Quraysh gave us useful insights on how we ought to act, react and communicate with non-Muslims in an inviting manner which encourages others to learn more about our faith.
In his speech, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib recited the opening verses of Surah Maryam which details the story of Mary and her miraculous birth of Jesus. Ja’far’s attempt to reconcile the two faiths, Islam and Christianity, by drawing similarities rather than differences, is an embodiment of inclusivism and common spaces.
The story moved Negus to tears who later exclaimed, "It seems as if these words (of the Quran) and those which were revealed to Jesus are the rays of the light which have radiated from the same source."
Prophet’s Lesson on Coexistence
Another example where coexistence is being promoted in Islam can be drawn from Prophet Muhammad SAW’s Khuṭbatul-Wadā (The Last Sermon) during his final hajj. In his farewell address, the Prophet SAW declared, “O people! Verily your Lord is one and your father is one. All of you belong to one ancestry of Adam and Adam was created out of clay. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for non-Arab over an Arab; not for white over the black or not for the black over the white except in piety.” (Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Dawood and Sunan Ibn Majah)
The Prophet SAW reminded us that we are all part of humanity and hence, the importance of treating each other with love, respect and friendship. Superiority over skin color, financial status, ethnicity or even beliefs should not divide us and be the cause of conflicts.
Divine Wisdom Behind Diversity
It is part of the divine wisdom that diversity is an inseparable feature of Allah’s creations.
Muslims today need to peacefully coexist with other communities in the same way our Prophet Muhammad SAW and the early Muslims did when they settled in Abyssinia and Medina.
Between faultlines and faithlines, we can overcome the unique challenges of our time by following our Prophet SAW’s example in fostering good relations with others without compromising the basic principles and fundamentals of Islam.
About the Author
Ustaz Remy Mahzam is an Associate Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He graduated from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) and holds a Bachelor Degree in Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Heritage (International Islamic University Malaysia) as well as a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Multimedia Design (University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom). Ustaz Remy writes occasionally for The Straits Times, Berita Harian and MediaCorp on public policy matters and social issues. He can be reached on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/remymahzam and on Instagram: @remymahzam